Martin Bright

The Inter-Generational Election

Text settings

Geoffrey Wheatcroft has kicked off the election campaign with possibly the most depressing article I have ever read about British politics. Jetting off to the States for an academic engagement, the old curmudgeon says he feels no regret at missing an election in which he has lost interest. 

This say more about the author of the piece than the election, which promises to be the most fascinating in my adult life. But then I am nearly twenty years younger than Mr Wheatcroft.

His central argument is that the Labour and Conservative messages are uninspiring. The Labour government will admit that the situation is dire, but claim it would be worse under the Tories; the Tories will call for change, without having much to offer. This is about right, but, for me, the paucity of the political argument makes the election all the more interesting. For some time, I have believed that the British electorate faces the most unattractive choice since 1974 -- no wonder it seems unable to make up its mind. 

In such circumstances there is a need for an intensification of serious political analysis, which is why it is a shame Geoffrey Wheatcroft won't be here to supply his share. 

Towards the end of today's article he provides some genuine insight. "Maybe the blame lies with those of us whose memories go back to Wilson and Heath," he says. He quotes Tony Judt's assertion that his generation has been "catastrophic." This is the generation of George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gerhard Schroeder and Tony Blair. It is also the generation of Gordon Brown. 

Significantly, as Judt has pointed out, it is "a generation that grew up in the 1960s in western Europe or in America, in a world of no hard choices, neither economic nor political."

In this year's General Election, we have a choice between this "catastrophic generation" or the younger generation of Cameron and Clegg (who will play a part in the forthcoming election more significant than any Liberal party leader for almost a century).

There is no evidence yet that this generation (which happens to be very precisely my generation) will be any less catastrophic. But (with the exception of the ultra-privileged Cameron and Clegg perhaps) it is not a generation which has had it particularly easy. Those born in the 1960s have faced hard economic and political choices. We face one of our hardest yet on May 6 and I will be staying here to make it.